One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.
Now I know that this is going to be contentious but it’s a subject that, In my opinion, will always need addressing (no pun intended). Apparel or suitable habiliments covering our person. Clothes suited to or indicative of a way of life. Fishing to me is a way of life and all aspects of it should be treated with due reverence. Garments for an occasion are what we’re talking about here and I deliberately leave out the eccentric and the feckless. It would be eyebrow raising for the clergy to turn up to an internment in an Hawaiian shirt, board shorts and flip-flops in the same way that you would be disturbed to see a high court judge, sat behind his desk, gavel in hand, wearing a baseball cap and a fluorescent pink tee-shirt bearing the legend “Kill Em All, Let God Sort Em Out” instead of his robes of office. Of course all walks of life have their eccentrics and they will dress as they will act. We will leave them to another chapter and focus our attention to the gentleman fly-fisher.
All fisherman dress for a day on the bank, boat or beach. But the fluff flicker in most cases sees his apparel as a consideration of the process. Not for him the oldest warmest clothes in the wardrobe. No his rig out will be well considered and specifically purchased to be part of the proceedings. The only other angler with a reputation for appropriate clothing will be the carp fisherman but there the similarities end. So leaving him behind on his bivvy laid out on his bed-chair and smelling of strawberry boilies we’ll move our attention to the fly caster. First I want to scratch across the whole waistcoat or fly fishing vest thing. I know they’re useful and have more pockets than a snooker hall. But I don’t like them. I own one that has a life jacket built into it (very sensible and primarily brought to in order that my good lady would worry less). However I only wear it when wading or boating and if it weren’t for the life jacket side I wouldn’t posses one let alone wear one. So why do people wear such garments? Well we’re told that with all those pockets it’s really useful storage for all the bits we need to carry on the bank. Unfortunately this allows us to slowly slip into rucksack syndrome.
Rucksack syndrome. This is the principle that most people will take enough stuff to fill their rucksack instead of taking enough of what they actually need. I used to sell hiking gear years ago and it never ceased to amaze me that people would always come in and ask for a really big rucksack. I would enquire why. They would then explain that were off to scout camp or backpacking for a couple of days and would need a big one in order to take all the kit they would need. To which I would enquire “And what kit do you think you’ll need then?” At this point they would tend to look puzzled and nine times out of ten reply “I don’t really know.” Of course they didn’t. Eventually someone would supply them with a kit list which would probably take up half of their jumbo rucksack. So then they’d fill the rest with clothes and the like which would return home with them in more or less the same condition as it went out, creased and maybe a bit wiffy, but certainly unworn having only served the function of being a space filler and the promise of back problems in later life.
This is what happens to the fly fishing waistcoat wearer (with the exception of storing clothes). Having a surfeit of pockets he feels honour bound to fill them. When I’m on the bank, which is a damn sight less than I’d like to be, my equipment is kept to minimum. Forceps, nippers or scissors, priest, floatant and sinkant, amadou, retractable pencil loaded with a needle for hook eye cleaning and a box of flies. Now I grant that this is just me but even if you do take more, wouldn’t a shoulder carried trout bag look more respectable? It’s certainly more English. Now having got that item off of my chest (sic) I’ll move on to the other items.
Starting at the top we will discuss hats. Only Americans and people who half think things wear baseball caps. They are usually adorned during hot weather with the purpose of protecting the head and eyes from the sun. What makes them unacceptable for fishing is firstly, if you’re going to wear a hat with a brim make sure it goes all round. The sun is not precious whether is burns your nose neck or ears. Secondly they are often worn but by adolescents with little capacity for originality and the inability to tell whether it’s on the right way or not. Moving on, trousers. Blue denim jeans should never be worn. It’s just wrong. In the same way that slimline tonic is wrong in gin. Moleskin, cords or coloured cottons are fine. Polyesters and their close relatives are acceptable but beware that they represent the top of a slippery slope that has baseball caps at the bottom of it. Colours should be nature’s own and shades of browns and greens are perfectly adequate. Make sure your colours compliment each other which is sometimes harder than you may think. These things aren’t set in stone but some combinations won’t work. If you’re not sure seek guidance from someone you trust. Trunk coverings are best achieved with shirts not t-shirts. T-shirts fail on most fronts by the water. No top pocket, no collar to be turned up (sun protection), sticky in the hot weather and, having your arms exposed leaves more of you for the midges to dine upon. Also, as with any ‘next to skin’ garment, you should heed the caveat regarding natural rather than man-made materials. Outerwear is allowed a little more leeway. After all, if you’re not on the bank you can’t land a fish and as we’ve been circumspect regarding our initial layers we will have scotched potential odours and retained valuable heat. However we still need to maintain our appearance. We are after all trying to blend with the countryside and uphold tradition. The main factors here are shades and the ability to remain waterproof. There are many superb technical fabrics out there and many are used to fashion garments with the piscator in mind. All I’d say is invest wisely and think about the use it will get as they won’t be cheap and you’ll only get what you pay for. Waterproofing for a fisherman is however just one of the requirements. Forcing your way through trees and bushes, its proximity to sharp items like hooks and knives, navigating barbed wire the list goes on. I plump for and would recommend a wax cotton. It’s ability to shrug off penetrating trauma is legendary. It’s easy to maintain and will double as a ground sheet. Although this is not particularly renowned as a breathable fabric, fishing is not particularly renowned as a sweat inducing pastime. That is unless you count day ticket prices on the chalk streams which can cause the wealthiest of angler wipe himself down with a ten pound note. Finally we must consider our ‘daisy roots’ or ‘rhythm and blues’ or in a more acceptable parlance, footwear. What does the gentleman fly fisherman purchase to adorn his ‘plates of meat’ with. Well Duke Ellingtons….. I’m sorry I’ll stop that now. Wellington boots would be the choice for the more waterlogged months and indeed some, having invested serious cash, would have obtained themselves a pair so well made that all year round use would not be unreasonable expectation. The other option is of course boots and shoes. I personally sport a pair of dark brown leather brogues boots in which you will find me shod in all but the dampest of bank-sides. Just remember, we’ve gone to a lot of trouble with our ensemble thus far, let’s not fall at the final fence. So with the wellies. First of all no black or even worse white (yes you know who you are Mr mortuary boots). Blue is okish if not bit horsey but green and brown are sartorially safe. Leather footwear. Shoes or boots brogue in style and can only really be varying shades of brown but always polished which will ensure smart appearance and longevity for the leather. Walking boots and shoes? Hmmm. Well they are fit for purpose assuming the right colour shades are observed but I’m personally not fussed.
I know this may seem anything from eccentric to ridiculous but think laterally. As an example some of us have the burden of formal occasions foisted upon us and despite our reticence we adorn ourselves in garments suitable for the event, black tie, suits etc. But we all choose to fish. We love it. Is it so much to ask we dress with due reverence to occasion. The thing to remember is that we are always ambassadors for our chosen sport so we need to dress like ambassadors, not chavs after a stag night.